A Question Left Unresolved By Our Sages

In his description of the menorah, the Rambam states:1

The central shaft of the menorah had four gob­lets, four bulbs, and two flowers.... A third flower was located near the base of the menorah.... Each branch [of the menorah] had three goblets, a bulb, and a flower. They were all embossed, so that [their surface] appeared [to be covered with small] almonds.2

The Kesef Mishneh (based on the comments of Mahari Korcus) explains that all three types of ornaments on the menorah were embossed because of a doubt in the interpretation of the Torah’s command. The Torah3 reads,
“In the menorah, should be four goblets embossed, its bulbs, and its flowers.” Our Sages4 explain that in this instance — and in regard to four other verses in the Torah — there is a question about the meaning of the verse: Does the adjective ohseuan, “embossed,” refer to the goblets (the antece­dent in the verse) or to the bulbs and flowers (which are men­tioned subsequently). Because of this unresolved issue, the Ram­bam rules that all the ornaments should be embossed. For embossing the ornaments that need not be embossed will not dis­qualify them, while failing to emboss those which are required to be so would leave the Torah’s directive unfulfilled.5

The Kesef Mishneh’s explanation raises a difficulty. The questions regarding the unresolved resolution of the other four verses cited by our Sages6 are all theoretical in nature. In no case is the performance of a mitzvah dependent on either of the in­terpretations. In this instance, however, the question concerns the mitzvah of fashioning the menorah. Although there may be no clear indication in the Written Law itself as to how this verse was interpreted, there surely must have been an explanation in the Oral Law, for otherwise the Torah’s directives concerning this mitzvah would have been incomplete.

Accordingly, we are forced to say that initially, there was clarity concerning the interpretation of the verse. When, then, and why, did confusion arise concerning this matter?

The Historical Background

The question is reinforced by the fact that this question does not concern a rare di­mension of observance, but rather the fashioning of the meno­rah, a sacred article that existed in the Sanctuary, and subsequently in the First and the Second Beis HaMikdash. Through­out that time, there could be no doubt as to which of the orna­ments were embossed. The question could be resolved merely by looking at the menorah.

To explain: The menorah was originally constructed accord­ing to the prophetic vision Moshe our teacher received at Mount Sinai.7 This same menorah was used from that time on­ward, throughout the entire duration of the First Beis HaMik­dash.8

We cannot say that the doubt arose at the time of the Sec­ond Beis HaMikdash, because: a) Ezra was accompanied by many elderly priests who saw the First Beis HaMikdash.9 Surely, there were some who recalled the structure of the menorah. b) The various differences between the First and Second Batei HaMik­dash are discussed by our Sages in several places in the Talmud (including the very passage concerning the question regarding the embossed ornaments of the menorah). No source states that in the First Beis HaMikdash, the manner in which to decorate the ornaments of the menorah was known, but in the Second Beis HaMikdash, this was an unresolved issue.

Moreover, the Sage who first mentions the existence of this question, Issi ben Yehudah, lived shortly after the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash. In his time, it was still possible to resolve this issue by enquiring of those who saw the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash or from Sages who had made such enquiries. Why then was the point a matter of question for him?

Furthermore, if the reason that all the ornaments are to be embossed is because of a doubt, it would have been proper for the Rambam — who states10 that the purpose of the Mishneh Torah is to provide a person with a guide to observe the mitzvos fully — to state that the question is unresolved, instead of ruling that all the ornaments should be embossed. Of what relevance is this ruling? He cannot be telling us how to build the menorah in the First or Second Beis HaMikdash, for that is past history. Nor will this ruling be relevant in the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash, for this structure will be built in an era when “the knowledge of G‑d will fill the earth,”11 and G‑d will have re­vealed the solutions to all the unresolved questions concern­ing the construction of the Beis HaMikdash.12

A Resolution to the Issue

Based on the above, we are forced to the following conclu­sion: The reason that all the ornaments of the menorah should be embossed is not a result of the unresolved question concern­ing the verse cited above. On the contrary, the embossing of the ornaments is motivated by another concept entirely.

To explain: Embossing the ornaments makes them more attractive.13 The Rambam writes14 that “Everything [performed] for the sake of the G‑d who is good should be attractive and good; [e.g.,]... If one consecrates an article, it should be from the best of one’s possession.” Thus we are obligated to fulfill all the mitzvos, and surely the construction of the Beis HaMikdash and its utensils, in the most attractive manner possible.15 Therefore, it follows that since embossing the ornaments makes them more attractive, all the ornaments of the menorah should be embossed.

Thus, there are two dimensions to the embossing of these ornaments: the specific obligation that is mentioned in the verse quoted previously, and the overall obligation that stems from the fact that every mitzvah should be fulfilled in the most at­tractive manner possible.

Therefore, the question as to which of the ornaments does the verse whose interpretation is unresolved apply, is — like the other four verses — only a theoretical matter. In practice, all the ornaments must be — and were always — embossed. What is unresolved is merely whether the particular ornaments were embossed because of an explicit command, or whether they were embossed because of the general charge to perform all of the mitzvos in the most attractive manner possible.16

* * *

The above concepts are relevant to the Third Beis HaMikdash, for it will surely be constructed in the most attractive manner possible. In the Era of the Redemption, “good things will flow in abundance, and all the delights will be as freely available as dust.”17This prosperity will enable us to build the Beis HaMikdash in the most beautiful manner ever.18 “And then, the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to G‑d, as in the days of old and as in bygone years.”19 May this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVI, Parshas Terumah